The Sybok Series: Helping Han Solo

The second stop in our series examining Sybok and his quest to heal the pain of other fictional characters brings us to another beloved science fiction character, Han Solo.

I know some might question whether Han has any deep, lingering pain layered beneath his gruff exterior but, thanks to the massively-underrated and unfairly-overlooked film Solo: A Star Wars Story, we can see that there is a pain hidden beneath the one liners. That shouldn’t be surprising, since the conventional wisdom is that those most apt to crack wise are doing this as a defense mechanism to protect a passionate heart.

Han was estranged from his blood, a father we know that worked in the shipyards of Corellia. He was a manipulated child entangled in a criminal gang. He rediscovered the true love of his life, only to have her leave him again.

When Solo Met Sybok

Once again, it seems inevitable that Sybok would see Han’s inherent goodness and his deep conflict, and want to release him from his pain. Sybok would reach out to him and, going on a journey of discovery and revelation, help Han quench the fire that launches him into the vastness of space in a relentless quest to find the pieces of him that are missing.

We see Han repeatedly try to assemble a crew as his mentor, Tobias Beckett, did. He is someone in need of others; we see him “assembling” a crew in the original Star Wars [Now Say Episode IV: A New Hope] and again in Disney’s Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: [Don’t Say Episode VII:] The Force Awakens with Finn and Rey.

He is like Dominic Toretto – he doesn’t have friends, he has family.

Dom Toretto | kesseljunkie
I DID IT. I linked Star Wars and the Fast & Furious franchises.

The Root Pains

Of course, depending on where Sybok meets Han on his timeline, there are many pains to choose. Han carries the pain of losing his son to a life murderous evilness.

Somewhere along the way, he winds up losing his wife’s love. He even loses his beloved Millenium Falcon.

He carries the guilt of murdering a mentor, however justified it was.

But I insist that his most unresolved pain, the one at the core of all Han’s discontent, is Qi’ra turning her back on him to pursue a life with Crimson Dawn. I don’t think that Han ever “got over” Qi’ra, and she was the missing piece he could never find.

For as steadfast a friend as Chewbacca was, Qi’ra was the one person who understood the gutters from where Han had come and all it meant to be free among the stars. She was a part of the dream he desired above all others and, without her, that dream was never as fulfilling as he wanted.

Qi'ra Solo A Star Wars Story | kesseljunkie
Do you ever really forget the one who got away?

A Resolved Solo

This is where it gets tricky. If Sybok meets Han early in his life, shortly after he loses touch with Qi’ra, and Han is able to become more well-adjusted, he may well have surrendered his outlaw ways and found the means to lead a quieter life of less repute.

He may have remained an outlaw of sorts, but a quieter one seeking more peace and stability. For a resolved person is a person who can find contentment, are they not?

That’s what I’ve been told, anyway.

And so we see that, for the purposes of galactic history, Sybok cannot be a catalyst for change in Han’s life until the right moment. Since Han’s lack of resolution and desire to keep looking for his missing pieces led him to Luke and Leia, and a role in the rebellion that overthrew Palpatine’s war machine, Sybok would have had to step in after the events of Star Wars: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi to ensure that things worked out for the galaxy.

Imagine a Han able to be content with a life next to Leia and parenting his son. Imagine the fulfillment of the joy promised at the end of Star Wars: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.

But we may have to rule out Sybok helping Han at any point then.

The arc of the sequel trilogy relies very heavily on the original characters taking a step back from the emotional resolution at the end of the original six films. If Sybok had appeared and resolved Han’s pain at that point, then the events of the sequel trilogy would never have been set in motion the way they were.

Oh well.

Sybok | kesseljunkie
Verdict: Too Bad, Sybok. You could have helped.

Was the Empire an Abject Failure in Star Wars?

As I continue thinking about Star Wars, which I do enough to cohost a fairly awesome podcast called Aggressive Negotiations with my dear friend Matt, I happened across another thought that strikes me as the root of something that shows how deeply thoughtful the storytelling has been on the whole.

I was rewatching Solo: A Star Wars Story again, and the opening text establishes that the Empire still hasn’t quite gotten complete control of the galaxy. The first words after the Lucasfilm logo are, “It is a lawless time.”

Given Solo‘s placement in the timeline of the narrative, it’s a scant decade before the original Star Wars. The Empire is still engaged in massive shipbuilding efforts, and hasn’t even taken control of the spice mines at Kessel. Their rule, while apparent, is anything but complete.

The original Star Wars clearly establishes that there are other parts of the galaxy the Empire hasn’t gotten under control, as well. The backwater world of Tatooine is a dusty remnant. The Phantom Menace shows that the “noble Republic” didn’t care about it, and by all appearances the Empire doesn’t, either.

Given that Solo takes place well after the events of Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, and Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope) is just about two decades after the same, the Empire has been ascendant but never absolute in its power. The excellent animated series Star Wars: Rebels also shows through the struggle at Lothal that the Empire was never able to extinguish the spark that would flare out to become the light of freedom.

Solo a Star Wars Story kessel millenium falcon | kesseljunkie
The Millenium Falcon visits my home planet!

By Comparison, the First Order

Given that the First Order took over the entire galaxy in a couple of days, just to find out a year later that Palpatine was not only still alive but in possession of an even larger fleet that would supersede their force (ahem), the Empire seems a bit of a dud.

After all, if Snoke’s First Order was able to take over the galaxy in a couple of days, and Palpatine’s Empire couldn’t even establish complete dominance in two decades, then doesn’t that just mean the First Order was “better” than the Empire ever was? In essence, Kylo Ren didn’t need to “finish what Vader started” (if you ignore his entire redemptive arc concluding with Return of the Jedi) because he did what Vader never managed.

Grandpa didn’t even manage to overthrow Palpatine, with a Death Star at his disposal.

I’d argue, of course, that it’s more of a bug of the storytelling with the sequel trilogy, as opposed to a strong support of the argument I’m offering here.

I don’t think the Empire was an abject failure, and in fact I think its long journey of creation is a fascinating piece of world-building.

The Empire Was Not a Failure at All

While it was established by name in Revenge of the Sith, it took those decades for the Empire to become the monstrous behemoth that the Rebels were fighting to overthrow because that’s simply how it would have to be done.

The Empire’s journey of creation respects and highlights the fact that systems aren’t easily converted in a matter of days or months, and it’s not always the people you think who are at work. Palpatine maneuvered for some time within the system of the Republic to corrupt the people in positions of power because he had to do that.

Even Emperors need supporters to create an empire. Without key support, they would be overthrown. There are plenty of past and current examples of this fact.

Fervent zeal in the population isn’t born overnight, either. It needs to be inculcated into the first generation after the overthrow. So long as people are alive who remember how things were before the Emperor, the work won’t be completed, unless you can distract them with fear.

The Empire had to use the crime syndicates to make people afraid, and make them grateful for the sense of order and security the Empire offered. This would cow the older citizens who just want an end to the chaos, because how much would their daily lives change anyway?

The chaos would also provide great distraction from what the Emperor was achieving behind the scenes. When life is turmoil, details of governance get fuzzy.

It’s an intricate, and, if you’ll pardon the term in the context of discussing a space fantasy, realistic approach to things.

So no, the Empire wasn’t an abject failure. It was a great success in that it overthrew the galaxy in a methodical and convincing fashion.

That’s why its story remains a fascinating lesson in the dangers of hate, anger, and greed.

Author’s Note: Agent Bun recently commented, “I don’t know how you manage to find so much to talk about with Star Wars,” in reference to the podcast. I assure you, it’s easier than she might suppose.

How Han Solo Demonstrated the Limits of L3-37

I’m about to forward an idea that won’t sit well with some fans of Star Wars, and particularly with fans of Solo: A Star Wars Story. At least one person will be nonplussed.

Let me be clear that I’m a big fan of the character L3-37. She’s a dynamic, funny character created with an eye toward thinking of robotics as we understand it today, as opposed to the retrograde treatment of programming we see in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. I sat on a panel at DragonCon to discuss the question of Droid Sentience. I called out the “vague racism” of the treatment of Droids in Star Wars years ago.

We’ve discussed Droid Sentience on Aggressive Negotiations, the podcast I cohost over on The Nerd Party. It’s a fascinating topic to explore. It’s a fascinating time to be alive.

I’ve gone back and forth on the nature and limits of artificial intelligence. Some days I lean a little Kurzweil on the topic, others I lean a little Tolkien. I think that’s fairly common. But I started thinking about it again.

Like any other sensible person, I can be persuaded and I can be convinced. But I had a further thought while listening to the superb soundtrack for Solo: A Star Wars Story. The track Reminiscence Therapy, which is the cue that takes us into and through the maelstrom as the Falcon is pursued by TIE Fighters, took me back to the moment Han decides to go into the maelstrom, and I realized that there was a key here to the idea of what will separate humans from machines. It started with a simple realization.

The Millenium Falcon in Solo A Star War Story which is a Star Wars film movie featuring The Millenium Falcon in a Star Wars movie about Solo in his own Star Wars Story Hi Craigula.
This was an insane decision, and a terrific sequence.

L3-37 Wouldn’t Have Attempted the Shortcut Through the Maelstrom that Han Took in Solo: A Star Wars Story to escape Kessel.

This is where I could get in trouble on the philosophical front with someone who fancies a debate about the seemingly paradoxical nature of Free Will. Fortunately, the few of you who read this (and aren’t SEO bots) aren’t inclined to argue points. I’ll gladly just dust off my soapbox and wax philosophical then.

If I can franchise hop here to start the journey, the nature of intelligence was explored in Star Trek: The Motion Picture quite beautifully. If you recall, when Spock mind-melds with V’Ger, we’ve seen that V’Ger has been to a machine planet. Yet V’ger cannot feel. Despite the stultifying intellect, V’Ger has no context for friendship and love.

It’s core to Spock’s own journey in the film! When we first meet him, he’s working to “purge all emotion” from his self. I am completely aware of the paradoxical nature of that claim, which is belied by Spock’s intuitive sense of V’Ger through the cosmos.

After mind-melding with V’Ger, Spock tearfully admits to the limits of pure logic, which is supposedly strict adherence to an “intelligence-only” lifestyle. V’Ger is missing passion and feeling. V’Ger is missing wisdom as well, since it feels the need to basically continue its programming despite its massive “evolution” since its first beginnings.

Leonard Nimoy as Spock in Star Trek The Motion Picture a Star Trek movie that features Leonard Nimoy as Spock in a Star Trek movie.
It’s Avatar meets Cybertron! 

A Core Difference

Passion has impact. It sets us apart from machines. We’re not simply intellect.

It’s in the interest of some to convince others that we’re simply meat machines, firing along on electrical impulses that are the extension of deep-seated “programming” that merely gives the impression of Free Will.

That’s not right. If it were, no one would ever move outside the norms, or challenge existing systems. Life is defined by chaos, not order, no matter how much Mark Zuckerberg or HubSpot want to reduce people to simple impulses and mathematical factors.

Where the debate gets murky is the fact that artificial life, as portrayed in movies and other media, has the illusion of Free Will. But it is an illusion. These characters exist in the main to explore the human condition, as they’re written by humans creating human stories for other humans.

In the real world, as much as a machine may seem to have Free Will, it won’t be the real deal. It can appear that they do because people have a perception bias since they live with Free Will.

A machine may achieve “human level intelligence,” but intelligence is its starting point. As I continued to think about whether L3-37 would have flown through the maelstrom, or dumped the cargo and gone into SEO marketing, I think there’s an important inversion of the natural order that limits “machine intelligence.”

It’s About Potential…And the Willingness to Be Implusive

It’s about potential. I know that there are people who get stuck in ruts, who make the decision to follow the expected and never deviate. That doesn’t mean they don’t have the ability to decide against their own best interests, nor does it mean that they won’t make a snap decision that defies expectation.

That’s why Han, when faced with the parameters, made the one decision that had the highest probability of failure. Instinct is the first step in human development, and intelligence comes later. A child is pure instinct, pure id. They don’t have the intelligence that will come later, nor the wisdom of experience.

L3-37 would still be ruled by logic and self-preservation, core to the original programming parameters laid into her matrix. She’d be ruled by these things because the intelligence came before any sense of instinct, not vice versa. The sensible thing was to dump the cargo, get boarded, and take your chances. Han Solo – a truly human person – was willing to take that insane chance just to get what they want.

Sure, that can be a bad thing when indulged too often. In fact, Han makes the decision for the people who would have voted against it. That can open a whole other debate.

But great leaps are made by those doing things that seem “crazy” when weighed against the odds.

“One Man Alone Cannot Fight the Future”

Maybe I’m a Romantic. Maybe my wavering between belief and disbelief in the virtues and potential of AI will ensure I’m blasted into my base chemicals to fill the feeding trough of the survivors.

But I continue to believe, to my core, that Free Will isn’t merely the artificial construct of intelligence. I think people have the thinking on it flipped. We are born with Free Will.

It’s intelligence that gives us our parameters. It’s an important piece of the puzzle, but it’s still a piece. People need to stop treating it as the whole picture.

Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi which is a Star Wars movie with Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader talking about the Jedi in the sixth episode of the Star Wars Saga which is before The Force Awakens and still had Luke capable of maturing unlike Star Wars Episode VIII The Last Jedi where he regressed because they couldn't figure out a better reason to leave him stranded in a Star Wars movie.
Luke learned the balance between intelligence, balance, and wisdom that even Obi-Wan and Yoda forgot. And ironically, Vader was “more machine than man” but still more man than a machine. Ignore the explainer videos, just read my image captions.

The Revised kesseljunkie Review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I seem to be in the process of reposting all my Disney®™©-era Star Wars reviews. With the build to Star Wars: Episode IX: Insert Title Here, I guess it makes sense.

If you want first crack at my reviews, I heartily recommend to link up over on the movie review network letterboxd. We’ll all be better for it!

Some Quick Notes Before You Read the Review

This review for The Force Awakens is a bit brief, especially compared to some of my others. I think it’s largely because I didn’t commit anything to writing until recently. The Force Awakens has been thoroughly discussed and weirdly become something of an afterthought, as well. So I guess this is another one for closing the barn door after the horses have run.

Of course, when the movie first came out, I was caught up in podcasting about it. I wanted to get my two cents in with everyone else who was enraptured with the Rebirth of the Thing We Thought Was Over.

I think I calculated the number of hours I talked on microphone about the movie to something in the neighborhood of 7 hours. One of those shows was 2 hours and 58 minutes long, longer than the movie itself.

More recently, after writing this brief review, I appeared on the Star Wars show I cohost for The Nerd Party, Aggressive Negotiations. The run time on that discussion is about 50 minutes, give or take. I also think it’s a good listen.

Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens is a movie I struggled with mightily at first. My first viewing went poorly. If I remember correctly, I pronounced it “fan fiction” at the time. By “at the time” I mean “as soon as the credits started.”

I don’t entirely retract that sentiment. I got agitated about the number of callouts to the rest of the series on that first viewing; eventually I was able to live with it all in the context of a soft reboot. I’m still annoyed by the fact that it seems to ignore Return of the Jedi‘s core thematic element, though a fair bit less annoyed than how reliant The Last Jedi is on ignoring its importance.

“Relax,” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, plays over this moment pretty well, if I’m honest. You’re welcome.

I did find the art in it, though. It is an extremely well-made movie with good characters and some strong performances. The meta-narrative with Han’s character, intended or not, is very interesting. It’s one of the things that I enjoy most about the movie.

Ultimately, while The Force Awakens is well-made, it’s a confection. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is, conversely, somewhat dour in its execution. Solo: A Star Wars Story is joyous in its execution, but then everyone knows that I feel that way. I’ll share my review of The Last Jedi soon, but until then, again, feel free to connect on letterboxd.

And despite all this preamble, I won’t be the least bit surprised if someone gets their knickers in a twist about something. For example, listen to how a dear friend reacted to my critical opinion on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story!

Anyway, this note is longer than the review below. Surprise! Told you it was brief.

My Review of Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Rewatched for a discussion on “Aggressive Negotiations” on The Nerd Party!

I really struggle with whether it’s 3.5 stars or 4 stars. There’s so much good going on here, and it builds up so much goodwill with the new characters, that I want to love this movie.

But there are myriad plot missteps, and the big arc with Starkiller Base is completely unnecessary to the story. You can tell it’s just inserted because “we need a superweapon.”

As a result, something that dominates the back half of the movie is maddeningly not even a real motivation for the characters’ actions – those remain and are strong. Starkiller Base is also a concept that would have been massively interesting developed over the course of several films, but then we’re splitting hairs.

There are some magnificently shot and choreographed moments and strong performances, and so…well, there you go.

I guess it’s 3.5 stars but I don’t want it to be.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Recently I shared my review of Solo: A Star Wars Story, and I’ve gone on as much as anyone else about the kerfluffle around Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.

Recently for Aggressive Negotiations, my fellow Jedi Master Matt Rushing and I had it out (yet again) about a Star Wars movie I like but don’t love. He does love it, and so our negotiations were, indeed, aggressive.

Here is my most recent review of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, originally posted to my account over on letterboxd. (I linked some text for fun.)

Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor in Rogue One A Star Wars Story released by Lucasfilm after it got bought by Disney.
The rebel assassination team assembles to deal with my heterodox opinion about a Star Wars movie.

My Review of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story has a lot of elements that work well. Delightful scene-stealing characters, solid art direction, bold effects work, and slick plot contrivances  make you forgiving of a very uneven start. The third act is indisputably a well-constructed battle scene, full of the type of visual dynamism that keeps you invested.

It also has a lot of things to like, and I think that’s part of the issue. The things to like wind up making you wonder if they were inserted at the cost of things that work. There are obvious inserts that feel far less organic than they should, and work to pull you out of the film. There are a couple of “for the fans” moments that end up being head scratchers because they’re so inorganic as to interrupt the narrative.

The first thirty minutes or so are far choppier than they need to be. After a terrific opening, the movie basically has a fluttering series of introductions and re-introductions that make me wonder how much of the reported restructuring had to do with the producers worried about treating the audiences as intelligent enough to keep up with things. While far from as egregious as the first reels of some of the recent franchise fare in this regard (here’s looking at you, Suicide Squad), it takes the film a bit to find its rhythm and really start progressing.

I’m certainly aware that there are Star Wars fans who really, really like this movie. And I like it, too! This is likely my second-favorite Disney-era Star Wars film.

I think it’s got enough red meat to satisfy the fans, I just wish it could’ve been cooked better.

So There You Go

I wound up giving it 3 1/2 stars this time around, but I struggle a bit with that. That last 1/2 star is very much on the merit of its final space battle.

I think it’s at that rating point because, as I mentioned to Matt, if I have a choice between this and The Force Awakens, I’ll choose this. Sorry, y’all, that’s just how it is.

But none of the other Disney®™© Era movies released so far will ever have as warm a place in my heart as Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Enfys Nest and her band of marauders from Solo A Star Wars Story during the climactic scene on Savareen.
Enfys Nest stands ready to defend my opinion.

Solo: A Star Wars Story

I mentioned Solo: A Star Wars Story, and how much I loved it, in the context of another post lamenting that no one seems to want to talk about the actual Star Wars movies themselves.

And so, I decided I’d take the easy way today and share the review of Solo: A Star Wars Story I wrote over on letterboxd. Just offering my own two cents, as it were. I’d love to rewrite it and make it more expansive, but I want to offer it here in its unvarnished glory.

kesseljunkie’s Original Review of Solo: A Star Wars Story

I loved this movie. It’s relentless fun, dropping all the pretense and just going for broke every step of the way. I laughed, I thrilled, I had a TREMENDOUSLY great time. This is the most satisfied I’ve been with a Star Wars film since 2005, which is the highest compliment I can possibly give it.

A few frayed edges — undoubtedly the result of its production blah blah blah blah — prevent it from hitting perfection but this is a film where, when I walked out of the theater, I couldn’t wait to see it again.

I loved it so much I want a sequel. I want to know more about who and where and why, and to see if the supporting cast goes where I think they will. It would have been so unbearably boring for them to have produced something that was simply “Guardians of the Galaxy Light,” but instead we got something complex and intriguing. This is the expansive, unconstrained galaxy that I’ve seen in my head since I was a kid.

You’ll hear plenty of naysayers and mudslingers. Whatever. In a world dominated by rote formula and predictable plot lines built over years in multiple movies, Solo: A Star Wars Story is what I never knew I needed so badly – an adventure with a big heart and infectious groove.

Anakin and Obi-Wan fight on Mustafar in Star Wars Episode III Revenge of the Sith
It’s the most I’ve loved a Star Wars film since this gem. And considering this is my favorite Star Wars film of all time, that’s a helluva compliment.